This magisterial biopic is likely to become the definitive film treatment of the life of Nelson Mandela. It is beautifully filmed and as grand as the beauty of South Africa itself. It is an epic inspiring account of the life of Nelson Mandela spanning his entire adult life from the 1940s to his assumption of the Presidency of South Africa in 1994. The film presents Mandela as both a larger than life heroic figure and at the same time as a human being struggling with an almost unimaginable burden as the human exemplar of his nation's struggle. The film is impressive and will bring Mandela's story to millions around the world.
The film has problems, though. First and foremost, it's far too long. And yes, I know it's his LONG Walk To Freedom, but at times it was just a bit too long. The Robben Island sequence dragged a lot and the all round pacing of the film was a bit off.
At times, it's very messily told. It seemed to be as the film makers couldn't decided what story to tell. Did they want to tell a story about Nelson Mandela's life, his youth, his hobbies, his relationships or a story about Nelson Mandela fighting for his country against the Apartheid. This was a real problem for me because telling them together didn't really work, it was stodgy.
The cynic in me is disappointed. I mean, how can you mess up a film about a man as inspirational and wonderful as Nelson Mandela?
And, in truth, you can't because I would be lying if I said that I didn't like this film. In fact, I really enjoyed it. The storytelling is powerful. The portrait of Mandela by Idris Elba is impressive as he presents his journey from young adult to grandfather of new multi-racial nation. He develops from an immature young man to man for whom suffering has created great wisdom, heroism and leadership. While he is presented as a hero, the film still manages to capture his human flaws through the difficulties with both his first and second wives. His dedication to his peoples' struggle comes at deep personal cost. The film is entrancing and deeply moving. The struggle of his wife Winnie Mandela – portrayed by Naomie Harris - is also deeply moving. She dedicates herself to her husband's struggle, but in some way her struggle is more difficult than his. The pain that strengthens him seems to embitter her and drive the two of them apart. Their love for each other and their courage is both inspiring and tragic. The portrayal of their marriage is heartbreaking. Their marriage becomes yet another casualty of the struggle against Apartheid.
But, like I said, you can't really mess up a film about Nelson Mandela's fight for equality - it's always going to be hard hitting, emotional and it's always going to make me cry buckets (and boy did it). So, I feel a bit indifferent. Is anything I saw a criticism or a compliment?
It's excellent storytelling, but it's not a classic. And it SHOULD be a classic. It's about the most inspirational man of the 20th Century. It's messy, it doesn't know what story it wants to tell, but I really, really enjoyed it and my heart broke in all the right places because I loved the man. And I guess that's enough.